The second half of Environmental Science kicked off with the Food Intensive in April: a week-long field trip to the Bay Area to study food systems and food justice. We met with Briar Patch Food Co-op, Phat Beets Produce, Acta Non Verba, Food First, Veritable Vegetable, PLEJ for Liberation, Three Stone Hearth, UC Davis Feedlot, UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center, UC Davis Student Farm, the National Germplasm Repository, and visited the Jelly Belly factory. Our conversations ranged from the ethics and sustainability of genetically modified foods to the political and social challenge of food deserts in urban areas. Students were shocked by the industrialization and corporatization of food, and inspired by those who are working for localization and equity in food production and distribution.
After our trip, we spent a week studying astronomy. Students chose topics to research and share with the rest of the class, including pulsars, astronomical navigation, and the ancient mythology underlying the common names of constellations. We spent hours outside observing the stars, the full moon, and even got a glimpse of Jupiter and three of Jupiter’s moons!
Our next couple weeks were focused on local ecology. We spent a day doing “citizen science” with SYRCL, the South Yuba River Citizen’s League, at a restoration site along the Yuba near Hammon Bar. In small teams we counted the number of surviving willows that were planted to provide more habitat for local fauna, including salmon fry, to rehabilitate an area that remains covered in mining debris from the Gold Rush. We also took a native plant walk on the nearby Independence Trail, observing a beautiful wildflower bloom and discussing the many uses of local plants. Several students submitted original artwork to SYRCL’s Youth for the Yuba contest in May, and won prizes for their poetry, paintings and photography. Their work was featured on local radio station, KVMR, as well as in the window display at Art Works Gallery in Grass Valley. Way to go Woolman nature artists!
Our last section of class was spent wrapping up and presenting sustainability projects. Student projects included: cleaning and organizing our on-campus “free store” (where clothes and objects are reused and upcycled); planning an eco-friendly mural; planting an herb garden; planning a local community garden; leading a guided meditation; creating “tree cards” to teach trail users about the trees on campus; rehabilitating our community bikes; researching shark finning; wildcrafting teas, tinctures, paper, ice cream, and more from native medicinal plants; clearing the Woolman woods of trash; extending the Woolman outreach network; learning about genetically modified trees; planning the construction of a bicycle-powered blender; and hosting a banquet and educational seminar on the importance of ancestry.
As an educator, there is no experience more powerful for me than witnessing the passion and curiosity of my students. This semester was a feast for my soul - hearing these students speak, reading what they wrote in their nature journals and reflections, and seeing the looks of amazement on their faces as we observed the natural world… all of these things have filled me with joy and hope. It was an honor to work with these young people. I believe in their wisdom and their vision for stewarding the planet, and am excited for all that their futures hold.